Saturday, December 17, 2011

Myth and Fairy

Myths and Fairy stories get a bad rap. they are about things that don't exist in the 'real' world and there for are nothing but mindless fancies and promote Escapism. That is at least ow may people treat fantasy. yet for some reason fantasy has become one of the most popular genres in literature. Yet these books deal with untruths and therefore are not worthy of any kind of real thought or inquiry.

Matthew Dickerson and David O'Hara start their book From Homer to Harry Potter with an introduction which discusses why people miss understand the literature of faerie, why it is dismissed and reduced to a single "easily digestible platitude, moral or allegorical meaning." (22) and even farther into "equating myth with falsehood, fantasy with escapism, and fairy tale with the nursery."(22) these are dangerous places which attempt to make the Faerie stories and those who read and write them of a lower intelligence then those who do not read such immature and foolish work.

The worst equation by far is the idea of escapism. it is not strange that the idea of escaping danger or prison is generally thought of as a positive thing? We do not criticize those who have escaped from Nazi Prison camps, no they were brave souls who would rather die that live in those conditions. women who escape from polygamist compounds are daring women who believe there is something more then the life they are living. to escape from danger is a good thing. Why is the concept of escapism so negative? Perhaps it is because most people accept the status-quo of the world and any one who says that the real world is not all there is- that there is something beyond the material world- is just too pathetic to deal with the real world. of course that would lead me on another tangent on what is real and how Screwtape tells Wormwood to do to manipulate the human's understanding of real life. But asking the question what is real life is another post for another day. back to faerie stories.

So what is a myth or faerie story? it is very difficult to pin down what their definitions might be. sence fanasty as a genre really got started at the beginning of the twentieth century it is not uncomon to think that it is a reaction or responce to the enlightenment (23). I would extent this to say that it continues to be a response to the postmodern ideas as well. Dickerson and O'Hara explore the definitions of myth given by the dictionary but find these definitions to be circular or missing the point. for the most part if something is a Myth then it is simply Not true, it is a false hood. (this is why I think so many people have a problem with Santa Claus, he is a myth and therefore a lie.) The purpose in this definition is to devalue myth, if it is nothing but a pre-scientific world trying to understand the nature in myths then it has no purpose what so ever in a world of science, it should be thrown out with the rest of the refuse.

In fact sometimes I wonder at how two worlds seem to be at war with each other the Movie Troy got rid of all the gods and goddess of the Illiad, Author stripped away any idea of magic as anything more then cheep tricks. both in an attempt to make the stories real. there are even some that say that the movie The 13th Warrior is a demythologized version of Beowulf. And yet at the same time movies are being made of the Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Harry Potter. 

So if the age of myth is over with the advent of Science then why does fantasy continue to be so popular? in this age where science has become the thing that we use to understand reality we have two general choices, to reject all myth and faerie stories as nothing more then something for the amusement of little children, or to deny that they are myth. this second option does not contradict the idea that myths are fundamentally false but that things that are called myth aren't really myth.

Dickerson and O'Hara offer a third choice, "that Myths might be Fundamentally true and yet still be 'mythological'" (32) they point out the root for mythological is Muthos which is a synyonym for Logos a word used by John to describe Christ. both muthos and logos came to mean an account or story. Muthologeuo where we get the word mythologize meant to 'relate word for word'. Owen Barfield and Tolkien both understood myth to be a cosmological way to understand the world. And that it also existed before language. C.S. Lewis suggested "that Myth does not exist in words at all- that is, it doesn't exist in one particular telling" (29) The truth of myths then becomes not reliant on history or language, their truth is something different that informs historical truth. Walter Wangerin Jr. referrers to myth as the mother of all truths, truth that is independent of time, place, or culture. it is transcendent and objective, describing something that is beyond and ancient. Myth and faerie stories "give an account of the world and a glimpse of ourselves" or as C.S Lewis put it "they not only reveal truth about our experience but actually add to our experience." (37)

It looks like Myth is a truth that is beyond matter- hence why materialists don't like it very much. it is a truth that gets under our skin and shocks us more fully awake as CS Lewis said in his introduction to George MacDonald's Fairy tales.

(All quotes are from A Handbook on Myth and Fantasy: From Homer to Harry Potter by Matthew Dickerson and David O'Hara, Copyrighted 2006)

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